How to know when to end a relationship

Falling in love is easy, staying in love is a challenge, letting go is hard, and moving on is the hardest. – unknown

Deciding to end a relationship can be an emotionally painful experience and rarely taken likely, especially if the couple has children or beloved pets to consider.

However, staying in an unhealthy relationship can be just as damaging to the well-being of all involved.

So how do you know when it is time to call quits? Whilst there are no hard and fast rules (wouldn’t it be so much easier if there were!), clinical psychologists Dr’s John and Julie Gottman have dedicated their lives to researching why couples stay together or don’t.

I have written about their communication harbingers of doom before – criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

They are the four horse riders who will hasten the demise of a relationship when left unchecked. But they are not the only signs that your relationship may be on the rocks. In this month’s blog, I look at the other hallmark signatures that signal a relationship may be beyond repair. 

Should we make up or break up?

1. Is it safe?

If you and/or your dependent(s) are experiencing physical or mental harm or feel unsafe, it is okay to leave. It is not okay for someone to use someone else as an emotional/physical punching bag, an outlet for their frustrations in life.

If your partner does this, it is a clear sign that they are not ready to be in a relationship, and you can not “fix them” by staying. In a healthy relationship, couples do not solve issues through violence, coercion or emotional harm.

2. Do you still care?

When emotion is replaced with indifference, e.g., you show more care or concern for a stranger than your partner; it can be almost impossible to re-ignite those loving feelings you once had for each other.

Often couples who have been in a relationship for a long time will remark that their partnership is more friends than lovers, but at least they still enjoy being in each other’s company. If you couldn’t care less if your partner was there or not, it is past time to talk to each other about the state of your relationship.    

3. Sweeping under the carpet has created a mountain

How you deal with the inevitable issues that arise from being with someone else (we are all individuals first, after all) plays a large part in the long term stability of a relationship. Ignoring them does not resolve them.

Eventually, they will reappear but have gained in irritation size to a point where no amount of “letting go” will remove them. Studies of relationships have long shown that those that stay together work through rather than ignore issues as they arise.    

4. Different stages, different people  

As we age, we often discover new abilities and interests and leave behind ideas and values that we once thought were set in stone.

Couples who “got together” when they were younger sometimes find as they get older that either or both feel like they no longer have anything in common or see life differently now. If the ties that bind start to unravel and there is no desire to find new things in common, it’s time to talk.

5. Is the relationship house beyond repair?  

Most relationships will go through periods of uncertainty and disharmony. What determines how long those periods become depends on the strength of your relationship house. When the “walls “of trust and commitment are solid and wallpapered with shared experiences, intimacy, admiration, and respect for each other, surviving the storms life throws up is easier.

However, if your “house” suffers from neglect or the inhabitants turn to others for support instead of each other, cracks will appear, and over time, moving out may seem the only option left.

Knowing when to call time on a relationship isn’t always easy. You have both invested part of yourselves in each other’s happiness and experienced moments of joy and love together. If you are unsure if your relationship is worth continuing or if it is time to let go, talking to a relationship therapist is often the best course of action.

We can help you alone or together to find clarity and give you the tools and strategies to navigate your way through separation or reconciliation.

It is true ending a relationship hurts, but how much pain is inflicted during the process is entirely within a couple’s control.      


Would you like to talk?

If something in this blog has brought up some issues for you, book a free inquiry call with Ann Jay.

Ann Jay

Ann Jay is a Wellington Relationship Counselor who provides marriage counselling, couple's counselling, and relationship coaching for couples and women either in a relationship or single. Her goal is to help people create healthy, loving and fulfilling relationships and experience the love they deserve.